In America, Opioids Kill an Average of 165 People a Day. Every Single Day

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New law requires pharmacists to enter data of any controlled substances they dispense within one business day

Our Deadly Opioid Crisis

By Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa

As originally published by Mega Doctor News in its newsprint edition

Prescription pain killers that are legal are being significantly abused causing overdose deaths and hospitalizations to skyrocket. Opioid abuse is at epidemic levels and has quickly become the deadliest drug crisis in American history. It is the leading cause of death for people under 50 and killed more people last year than guns or car accidents — a pace faster than the HIV epidemic at its peak.

And this is not just an isolated drug problem, opioid abuse is linked to huge increases in crime, unemployment, and suicide, as well as increases in child abuse and neglect cases. It is impacting rural areas where it was not common before and is a huge financial drain on our healthcare system.

Opioids can be heroine, but are also prescription painkillers like Vicodin, OxyContin and Hydrocodone. Unfortunately, television commercials push these drugs to consumers as the answer to all pain. The pharmaceutical industry paints a pretty picture of pain relief but fails to properly show the side effects or long-term consequences. Meanwhile, pill mills have become prevalent in our communities and people continue to become addicted. While law enforcement is going after drug dealers, they are also targeting pharmaceutical companies and doctors who they say are flooding the nation with potent painkillers.

The problem is not having a system in place to check on pain clinics or patients. A person can go doctor shopping and get the same prescription from multiple prescribers or at pill mills. This is why prescription drug monitoring programs are so critical, and many state legislatures are creating new laws to reduce the supply of prescription opioids that end up being used recreationally while maintaining adequate access for chronic pain patients.

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The Texas Prescription Monitoring Program (PMP) is a database that collects statewide information on controlled substances dispensed in Texas. The PMP allows prescribers (doctors, dentists, nurses, etc,) and dispensers (pharmacists) to check on a patient’s controlled substance prescription history to ensure responsible prescribing and dispensing patterns. Regulatory agencies can also use the database to investigate potentially improper practices. However, the current PMP lacks basic tools needed to maximize its effectiveness. Mandatory use of the PMP by our medical community is necessary to properly capture prescription data.

In an effort to curb our Texas opioid crisis, I authored legislation this session that becomes law September 1. It requires pharmacists to enter data in the PMP of any controlled substances they dispense within one business day. And more importantly, it will require mandatory PMP checks on a patient’s prescription history before prescribing or dispensing any controlled substances starting September 1, 2019.

While there was much initial resistance from our medical community to require mandatory checking of the PMP for a patient’s prescription history, we worked together to make adjustments and to improve and fully develop the PMP system, and allow a grace period.  However, change is inevitable and these requirements are necessary.

Another consequence of the growing opioid crisis is a significant increase in pharmacy burglaries and theft. In Texas, there are no special penalty enhancements for offenses dealing specifically with pharmacies or other premises that typically store controlled substances. This means that the burglary of a pharmacy would be treated the same as the burglary of a convenience store without regard to the controlled substances that are stolen.

Since we must protect our communities from the wave of property crime that is feeding the illegal opioid pipeline, I authored and passed legislation to increase penalties for burglary or theft offenses involving a controlled substance. Effective September 1, 2017 it is a third-degree felony for burglary or theft of a controlled substance if it is on premises such as pharmacies, clinics, hospitals or nursing facilities.

The Texas Legislature must continue to address this growing epidemic next session and create more safeguards to prevent doctor shopping, ensure prescribers check patient drug prescription history, and help identify those patients who are addicted or need assistance. Opioid abuse is not going away as our society relies more and more on prescription drugs for pain relief and other health issues. While I am proud of our hard work this session, more must be done to educate the public and prevent our loved ones from dying at alarming rates.

Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa is a Texas State Senator. He is Mega Doctor News Guest writer.